Retirement blog about all things health related* Many, many years ago, when I first qualified as an educational psychologist, there was a method of teaching children with reading difficulties that I found difficult to accept. Although it was popular at the time (not any longer TG, at least I don’t think it is), I couldn’t see any sense in it. Briefly, it consisted of teaching what was seen, at the time, as the underpinnings / constructs of reading rather than the actual words themselves or even what used to be called word attack skills. So the theory went, if children can improve their ability (a loaded term in itself and this is not the time to describe the difference between an ability and a skill, nor why it mattered to do so) to distinguish a circle from a square, from a triangle (just a brief, possibly overly simplistic, example) then they would be better able to distinguish one letter or word from another.
It seemed to me that, what the many exercises children were subjected to in this ambition, and bear in mind, while they were so engaged, then they weren’t doing something altogether more useful, like learning to read, they weren’t actually learning to read. True, they got better at identifying squares, circles, triangle and so on but the evidence suggested they didn’t get any better at reading words on a page (as they then were). The skills didn’t ‘transfer,’ or generalise to put it simply. My feeling was why not just teach them to read by identifying letters and words (the latter being much better, I didn’t much go in for blending letter sounds either, just teach them the words – a sight vocabulary – but I was a bit hard core in this regard).
And why is he telling us all this, fascinating though it might be? I can hear you thinking, he’s lost it again, senility raises its ugly head once more. And maybe it does but let me explain why I’m writing about the above, a good forty years since I last made the stand against helping children with reading difficulties to tell the difference between a circle and a square. As is often the case, my remembering the past and thinking of a possible blog (I never know whether there is a blog until I’ve completed my 1000 words) was prompted by an article on the internet about dementia. Strange link you think. It’s one of those micro / macro things I mentioned recently.
A few years ago an Australian chum of mine was doing puzzles (a bit like the above). You have to bear in mind that this is the country that came up with the remarkable scheme of rubbing a cricket ball with sandpaper in full view of a packed crowd of about 10,000 spectators, and God knows how many cameras, and believing that nobody would notice. So not a good idea I would have thought. Anyway my point is that a few years ago my chum, also an educational psychologist, I noticed, was engaged in working his way through several books of puzzles, little exercises to keep his mind sharp and ward off the dreaded dementia bug. So he said.
I thought it strange for an intelligent man to believe in such things although I admit that there was a face value to it all, as there often is with these things. My view, at the time, was that while it might make you better at completing such puzzles it wouldn’t do bugger all for preventing dementia, Alzheimer’s, call it what you wish while you can still remember the alternatives. But I held my tongue, something that I won’t be able to do literally or figuratively as age rattles by. Who am I to throw dispersions, I thought, on this intelligent man’s way of maintaining his cognitive abilities?
And then this morning, an article from the BBC on the internet entitled – Puzzle solving ‘won’t stop mental decline’ A line from which said, ‘It found engagement in problem solving did not protect an individual from decline’. For the full article see – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46507024 . I read it and it all came back to me and prompted this blog. That’s after skipping over that ‘scientific advice in the article that never seems to age – “In addition to staying mentally active, keeping physically fit, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within recommended guidelines and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we get older.”
It will of course change, give it time, although I may not be around to witness this happy day. In the meantime I can hang on to the sure belief that it’s all (the research that is) fixed and of course these studies can say whatever you want them to. There’s nothing necessarily objective or true about such research, it depends on who’s sponsoring the research. Wait another couple of months and there will be another study reporting exactly the opposite – meaningless puzzles abolish senility until well after you’re dead.
And yes, you could argue that I belittle the above puzzles because I am absolutely crap at them. Same with crosswords although I have to mention here that a few years ago I actually thought I might make a living at devising crosswords, cricket crosswords for a cricket magazine. I actually got at least one published, they paid me a fiver and at this point I thought maybe this wasn’t the alternative career I’d been looking for. If I can find them (unlikely) I’ll post them on here for you cricket fans). I suppose it was simply that I was much better at solving crosswords when I knew the answers or, better still, had written them.
And just while we’re on the topic of contrary ‘scientific‘ advice, did you read the article about statins in The Independent last weekend? Headline – Statins: higher doses ‘would save thousands of lives’. I even bought the paper on the basis of that it a) wasn’t the Daily Express / Mail and b) I’m looking for an alternative to the Guardian and Observer both of which are giving me the message that this paper isn’t for you these days. I don’t think The Independent is going to persuade me to give up the habit of a lifetime. Inertia is a wonderful thing. But anyway the article, as usual, didn’t help those of us looking for solid health advice. Two experts saying, as with the headline, they’re great and a third, saying, ‘the overwhelming majority of people taking statins, including heart attack patients, will derive no benefit whatsoever…’
So there we have it 1,000 plus rambling and confusing retirement blog words about nothing very much in particular. It’s not as if I need to worry about health issues, mental or physical is it? Oh, it is?
*Although this kind of article is always popular at the beginning of a new year, I actually wrote this blog last year, make of that what you will.